The Independent National Electoral Commission has disagreed with President Muhammadu Buhari over his order to security agents to kill ballot box snatchers during the February 23 presidential and National Assembly elections.
Buhari, who is the Presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress had at a meeting with the APC leaders, on Monday, said anyone who snatched ballot boxes would pay for it with his life, adding that he had given orders to security agents to be ruthless with such people.
He had said, “I am going to warn anybody who thinks he has enough influence in his locality to lead a body of thugs, snatch ballot boxes or to disturb the voting system, he will do it at the expense of his own life.”
However, the INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, said at a press conference in Abuja on Tuesday, that the commission would stand by the Electoral Act which “states that persons who snatch election materials are liable to a prison term of two years or maximum fine of N500, 000.”
Responding to Buhari’s comment, the INEC chairman said, “The position of the commission is that all violators of the Electoral Act should be punished according to the provisions of the Electoral Act.”
We’ve achieved 95 % configuration of Card Readers – INEC Chair
Yakubu also said INEC had achieved 95 per cent configuration of the Smart Card Readers to be deployed for the elections.
He said, “I want to report that as of last night, we have achieved 95 per cent configuration of the 180,000 card readers and this process is going to be completed on Wednesday morning (today), one day ahead of schedule.”
Yakubu also disclosed that as at 4p.m. on Monday, all issues related to delivery of materials were identified and virtually addressed, saying ballot papers, result sheets and non-sensitive materials were now in locations across the 36 states of the federation and the FCT.
Asked to confirm rumours that a commissioner of the electoral body had been arrested, he said, “No (National) Commissioner of the commission was picked up by any security agency, no house of any commissioner of INEC was raided; no commissioner of INEC has been picked up by security agencies. The particular commissioner you are referring to that was mentioned in the social media (Ibeanu) is, as we speak, in his office in the commission. Similarly, no six directors were picked up by any security agency.”
The chairman added that personnel and materials would also be at the registration areas by midday on Friday, while refresher training for ad hoc workers would take place on Friday.
“Personnel and materials must arrive at polling units latest 7am on Saturday and the opening of poll will take place by 8am on Saturday,’’ Yakubu said.
He said that INEC was committed to free, fair and credible elections, adding that the commission was working hard to ensure that the elections were held as scheduled.
Asked if people in Borno State would take part in the elections, Yakubu said that the people in the Internally Displaced Camps would be allowed to participate.
Also, the National Chairman of the PDP, Prince Uche Secondus, declared that “Buhari’s directive is to scare away voters and agents, that we have directed to defend their votes, so as to give way to a military-protected political thugs to come into the polling booths and implement their result replacement strategy.”
He spoke at the emergency meeting of the National Executive Council of the PDP in Abuja on Tuesday.
According to him, any security officer who decides to engage in killings in obedience to the President’s will be doing so at his own risk, adding that the law will surely take care of the situation.
Presidency defends Buhari, says PDP plotting to snatch ballot boxes
But the Presidency on Tuesday defended President Buhari’s directive to security agents to kill anyone who attempts to snatch ballot boxes during the forthcoming polls.
It claimed that the opposition PDP had already perfected plans to snatch ballot boxes, a reason the party had become the most critical of the President’s order.
Presidential spokesman, Mr Garba Shehu, who re-echoed the President’s position while speaking with State House correspondents in Abuja, argued that the directive would end the history of ballot box snatching during elections in the country.
Shehu stated, “This sounds like members of the opposition, specifically the PDP, who have perfected plans to rig the elections and to snatch ballot boxes.
“They can tell that President Buhari is not prepared to tolerate their antics this time round, and they are afraid. They have shown their intent.”
Shehu explained that only drastic measures would save the lives of many other innocent voters.
“Snatching ballot boxes often entails putting the lives of innocent Nigerians at risk. About 10 years ago, evidence was brought before an election tribunal from one of the states in North-Central of the gruesome killing of 26 prospective voters by ballot box snatchers.
“Their modus operandi is well known. They storm election venues in a commando style, overwhelm the law enforcement agents and seize ballot boxes leaving a trail of death and injury,” he alleged.
Shehu said Buhari’s interest was to conduct “free and fair elections” without the loss of lives.
He added, “Anyone who dares to put the lives of innocent citizens at risk in their desperation to rig elections must be prepared for the possibility of losing their own lives because our security agents will certainly not stand by, clap for them and watch them kill and maim.”
But the PDP said no one should be regarded as an enemy of democracy than President Buhari.
It said that the President was one of the enemies of democracy in Nigeria because he illegally overthrew a democratic regime in 1983.
The National Chairman of the PDP, Prince Uche Secondus, who spoke with one of our correspondents, asked Nigerians to hold Buhari responsible for any killing during the forthcoming elections.
He said, “We are not defending anyone that picks or hijacks ballot boxes. We are against any form of rigging and we won’t accept it as an individual and as a political party.
“However, we want to state categorically that we don’t support summary execution of Nigerians under whichever guise. We will never support the killing of people indiscriminately.
“We know that the President once truncated Nigeria’s democracy and he was not shot. Now he wants to kill Nigerians even when the constitution specifies how offenders of ballot snatching should be treated.”
However, the acting Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, on Tuesday re-echoed Buhari’s warning against ballot box snatching during the forthcoming polls.
He said the police would deal ruthlessly with anyone caught snatching ballot boxes.
The IGP stated, “Today, members of the security community and intelligence community came and briefed Mr President on the security situation in the country.
“We deliberated on the consequences and came up with the resolve to further provide adequate security within the country so that the electorate will come out and cast their votes without any fear of molestation.
“Every Nigerian is encouraged to come out on the election day and cast their votes without any fear of molestation. The security personnel are ready and prepared to protect everybody.
“Anybody that feels that he can come out and disrupt the process should have a rethink because that situation will not be allowed. If you plan and allow yourself to be used as touts, whatever happens to you, you will take it.
“Ballot snatching, vote- buying, thuggery will never be allowed, anybody that is planning to snatch ballot boxes or planning to be used as a tout, will have his or herself to blame on the Election Day. So, you better don’t allow yourself to be used.”
But the Transparency International has warned that President Buhari’s order on shooting snatchers of ballot boxes will breed extrajudicial killings during the elections. It called for caution on the part of the military, the police and other law enforcement agencies.
The TI Head in Nigeria, Mr Musa Rafsanjani, who stated this in a release in Abuja, noted that the order “if not retracted has the potential of breeding gross killing of innocent Nigerians who will be taking part in the February 23 polls.”
The TI Head stated, “We are surprised at such statement that could be a ‘potential execution order’ from the President, not minding the present uncertainty that dominates the tension-soaked political atmosphere in the country.
“…We must reiterate the importance of right to life as a fundamental part of human rights and we are aware that Section 128 of the Electoral Act states that “any person who at an election acts or incites others to act in a disorderly manner commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a maximum fine of N500,000.00 or imprisonment for a term of 12 months or both” and specifically states that anyone who destroys, or snatches election material is liable to imprisonment for 24 months. Nowhere is capital punishment prescribed as a penalty for any electoral offence in Nigeria.”
Also, the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre on Tuesday said Buhari’s comment had the potential of emboldening trigger-happy security agents to take the law into their own hands.
It added that the centre was surprised at such statement that could be a “potential execution order” from the President.
The Executive Director, CISLAC, Auwal Musa, said that the right to life was a fundamental part of human rights.
“Nowhere is capital punishment prescribed as a penalty for any electoral offence in Nigeria,” the centre added.
“The statement was indeed un-presidential and not good for the evolution of our peaceful democratic process,” it said.